So how will you answer this fall when the teacher asks for that “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” theme? If you can stand the heat, it might be time to head to Alabama for the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. No matter how many times I read that book or see the movie, no matter how many awkward middle school essays it has indirectly forced me to grade over the years, I just never tire of Scout and Jem and Dill and Atticus and Boo. Who can resist the quiet moral authority of Gregory Peck patiently reading on the jailhouse steps, waiting for the mob he knows will arrive? What is more terrifying than the huge shadows on the Radley house at night or the kids fleeing through the woods to escape their unseen attacker?
It’s a nearly perfect novel, funded by the author’s generous friends whose Christmas gift one year allowed her to leave her job in airlines reservations and take time off to write.
Harper Lee, of course, never wrote anything else, but, really, why would you bother? She divides her time between New York and Alabama, still shops at the Piggly Wiggly and likes to drink coffee at Hardee’s. Her work is done. The characters live on. Boo Radley has become the namesake for everything from a rock band to a toy novelty shop in Spokane, and folks in Monroeville plan serve up “Tequila Mockingbirds” come July. I guess I should be horrified that people want to cash in on art this way, but I’m guessing that it doesn’t bother Lee that much. When you’ve written the nation’s favorite novel, you can afford to be generous.